How to Fix a Leaking Shower Head

I find nothing more annoying than hearing the constant dripping sound coming from my shower when I am trying to drift off to sleep. I have found that not only is a leaky shower bothersome, it can get very costly. The average leaky shower, even if only dripping one drop per minute, will cost a homeowner $20 per month. That adds up to $240 per year. The reasons why a shower head will develop a drip involves either the faucet or the showerhead. We shall explore both the problems with these fixtures, and discuss how to repair them.

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Two Ways a Shower Will Leak

There are two ways a shower spring a leak, either when the shower is turned off or when it is turned on. Each of these problems has a different mode of repair. If you have a leak when the shower is turned off, then you need to replace the valve inside the faucet. If your shower drips while the water is turned on, the repair you need to make involves cleaning or replacing the shower head.

The Shower Drips When the Water is Turned Off

As I have previously stated, if you are experiencing a leak when the water is turned off, the difficulty you are having is being caused by a faulty shower valve inside the faucet. The shower valve is a small device inside the faucet that controls the water volume, temperature and pressure. As there are many parts to this repair, and due to the many complications one may encounter, it is recommended that you hire a qualified plumber to perform it. This cost can run up to $302 (the average fee a plumber charges per hour in the United States), but the peace of mind may offset this price.

However, if you are like myself, on a fixed budget, you may wish to change the valve yourself.

See Also: How to Remove & Replace a Shower Head

Basic Steps to Replacing Any Type of Shower Valve

For any type of repair to a shower valve, you should always follow some basic steps. These actions involve gathering the tools you will need, turning off the water, and placing a rubber mat or paper towels over the drain to prevent small parts from falling out of reach.

Assembling the parts and tools you will need before you begin any repair, is an important time saving step, that shouldn’t be taken for granted. The tools needed to replace a leaking faucet valve are as follows:

  • ​Pliers
  • Paper towels or rubber mat
  • Flat head screw driver
  • Deep Plumber Socket set
  • New shower faucet valve(s)

​The next stage is to turn off the water to the shower. I discovered in my research, not completing this step can lead to disaster as water will go everywhere. Turning off the water to your shower may mean turning off the valve only for the shower, the bathroom, or the entire house. This depends on the way your bathroom is set up. After determining where you need to turn off the water, and having done so, open both the cold and hot faucets on the shower to bleed off any water that is already present.

Next, place a rubber mat or paper towels over the drain to prevent small parts from falling into it. This prevents you from having to hire a plumber to disassemble your drain, which will destroy the money you were trying to save to your budget.

​Determine If Your Shower Has a Single or Double Faucet

You next need to determine if you have a single or double faucet. This is easy, because you can see the difference. A single faucet has only one handle to turn on both cold and hot water, while double will have two handles. The procedure for changing either type of faucet is the same, with the only difference being you need to repeat the procedure on both the hot and cold sides on a double facet.

If you can determine that only one side, either hot or cold, of your double shower facets are leaking, it is possible to change only the leaking side. However, it is highly recommended that you go ahead and change both sides since they are probably around the same age, and will need to be changed in the future for the same reason.

​Repairing a Single or Double Faucet Valve

First, detach the faucet handle by removing the screw located on the front and center of the faucet, or the side of the faucet depending on the model you have in your bathroom. If you have a newer design, you will need to remove the decorative cap first. You can remove any decorative caps with a flat head screw driver.

Caution: Be very careful not to scratch the finish on your faucet handle.

After removing the cap, unscrew the locking screw by turning it counterclockwise, then wiggle and pull the handle off.

Remove the trim and sleeve that covers the fixtures beneath the cap, and you will be able to see the faucet stem, and the hex nut that holds valve onto the stem.

Remove the valve tube that covers the old valve.

Using the correct size deep plumber socket wrench (available for a minimal cost at your local hardware store), turn the hex nut counterclockwise and unscrew the assembly. Since this piece is usually occluded by minerals, it may take a significant amount of pressure to remove it.    

After you have removed the hex nut, remove the retainer clip that holds the old valve in place and place it in a safe place.

Carefully remove the washer covering the valve.

Place the plastic knob that should have come with your new valve kit over the end of the old valve, loosen it.

Next, using pliers, remove the old valve from the unit by pulling straight out on it until it is free from the valve housing.

Take the new valve from the packaging, and after lining it up so that one flat part of the valve stem is on top and one on the bottom, firmly push the it into the valve housing. You can use the plastic knob that came with your new cartridge and pliers to line up the flat parts.

With the flat parts of the new valve stem are in the correct position, replace the retaining clip. You should hear a snapping sound as the retainer clip sets into place. If you do not hear a snap, then the flat parts of the valve stem are not in the correct position and you will need to replace the knob and reposition it.   

Next, place the metal spacer that came with your new valve into place over the valve stem, and then your trim.

Turn the water back on and check for leaks. There should be none if you have followed these steps correctly.

Cleaning a Clogged Showerhead

There are two methods to cleaning the mineral and hard water deposits from a clogged showerhead. One approach involves removing the showerhead from the shower arm or hose, and the other is to leave the showerhead in place.

Removing the showerhead from the shower arm or hose is more time consuming, but it is the most efficient method. In either case, the technique of cleaning the showerhead remains basically the same.

Tools Needed to Clean a Showerhead

  • ​White vinegar
  • A bucket or other container
  • Clea​ning rags
  • A soft bristled toothbrush
  • A paperclip
  • Pliers
  • Plumber’s tape

​Cleaning a Showerhead That Has Been Removed

After removing the showerhead from the shower arm or hose, submerge it in a bucket filled with vinegar that has been warmed on the stove or in a microwave. There is no need for the vinegar to be very hot, just warm will do nicely.

​Warning: Do Not Use Vinegar on Fixtures Made from Nickel or Iron!

As vinegar is an acid, it will dissolve metals such as nickel or iron. To check and make sure your fixtures are not made from nickel or iron, first place a small amount of vinegar on an unnoticeable spot on your shower arm, and leave it for a few minutes. If when you return it is bubbling, do not use vinegar. Instead, you will need to replace the showerhead.

Allow Your Showerhead to Soak in Vinegar

Allow your showerhead to soak for at least thirty minutes in the bucket or container filled with the warm vinegar, then remove it and wipe it off with a rag.

The mineral deposits should wipe off onto the rag. If there are still mineral deposits on the showerhead, soak it again for another thirty minutes. If after thirty additional minutes, you still see minerals, use the soft bristled toothbrush and the paperclip to remove them.

Make sure to clean the holes of the showerhead well.

You can then replace the showerhead, but first make sure you apply new plumbers tape to the threads of the shower arm for a good seal.

Cleaning a Showerhead That is Still Attached to the Wall

Being careful to check and make sure your fixtures are not made from iron and nickel, take a plastic baggie large enough to cover the showerhead filled with vinegar over it and secure it there using a large rubber band or tape.

Leave the showerhead to soak in the vinegar overnight

The next morning, carefully remove the baggie and wipe of the showerhead with a rag. If the showerhead still has deposits on it, clean it with a soft bristled toothbrush saturated with vinegar. To remove any deposits in the holes of the showerhead, use a paperclip to clean it out thoroughly.

Repairing My Own Showerhead Has Paid Great Benefits

Repairing to my showerhead has paid off in many ways. One benefit has been in saving both in the cost of the water I was paying for that was being wasted, and another the savings of not hiring a plumber. Even though I have enjoyed not paying out a large sum of money to hire a plumber, I would have done so had I encountered any problems that I could not solve.

Replacing a shower valve or cleaning the showerhead are great ways to not only fix an annoying drip, but to save money and enhance your budget.

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